In the 1990s,India went through a period of economic liberalization in which the Indian government relaxed their control over the economy, initiated for the privatization of many industries, and allowed for foreign investors to begin investing in Indian companies.
Due to this economic program, Western money began to flow into the Indian economy. As this new financial relationship between India and the Western powers grew over time, Western cultural ideology also began to be imported across borders. Most Indian citizens encountered Western ideas through popular media sources such as cinema, tv, magazines, etc.
As Heather Tyrell mentions in her article, Bollywood, India’s cinema industry, is a huge cultural force in the Indian subcontinent and holds a special place in the heart of the Indian masses. In fact, Bollywood is so popular that it prevented Hollywood from establishing itself in the Indian market. Professionals in Bollywood were delighted to see that Indian films could resist being eradicated by what was perceived as Western cultural imperialism.
However, after economic liberalization, Bollywood wanted to become a major presence in the global scene. The industry began to look for ways to become more global and modern. In India, modernity is often equated with the West. Therefore, Western ideology began to be incorporated into Bollywood films. As these new cultural messages began to reach the Indian masses, Indian moviegoers were pushed to reevaluate their traditional Indian cultural ideology.
This process is still occurring across India today. One of the areas of active cultural negotiation is in the subject of beauty. Today, in an effort to be modern, Bollywood has begin to include elements of Western beauty standards in its films. Thus, actors and actresses that have a more “Western” phenotype, such as blue/green eyes and pale skin, tend to enjoy more success in Bollywood. This practice of privileging those with fair skin exacerbates the colorism that permeates Indian society. As a result of these recent trends, one sees many Indian television ads that feature lightening creams. The facial cream Fair and Lovely can be found in almost any household.
Other elements of Western beauty, on the other hand, contradict traditional ideas about beauty. The West’s fascination with a slim figure, for example, opposes the Indian preference for curvier women. Bollywood actresses are also known to wear Western attire in many film sequences. However, it may be difficult for Indian woman to transition into Western wear. Many are reluctant to give up traditional garb, such as the salwar kameez, because it is an important cultural symbol in their lives. Others are afraid of the kind of sexual advances that such revealing attire may encourage from men in public.
In the end, the modern Indian woman faces a tough choice. Will she become a modern, global citizen by conforming to the new Western standards of beauty? Or will remain rooted in tradition, choosing to serve as the cultural role model and satisfying what Indian society expects of traditional Indian women? If she chooses the second option, how does she respond when peers criticize her for being backward or primitive? How will her choices affect her chances of participating in this new global world?